The New Iranian Drone

There was a lot of fuss a few years ago when a US reconnaissance platform, an RQ-170 UAV, came down in Iran. At the time, Iran complained about it being over their territory and claimed one of their cyberwarfare units had hacked its guidance systems and forced it down. That’s possible, but it’s also possible that a bird strike or other mishap caused the crash. It certainly didn’t look as if it had landed all that safely – there was quite a bit of damage.

Anyway, Iran has now announced that they’ve reverse engineered the RQ-170 and developed it into a new “attack drone” called the Saequeh, or Thunderbolt. They claim to have improved the payload of the original design and turned it into an unmanned bomber capable of hitting four targets simultaneously with precision-guided bombs; at the public unveiling of the Saequeh it was posed on a large display stand with four bombs mounted underneath.

The first thing to say is that this makes no sense at all. The RQ-170 was never an armed platform; it doesn’t have any of the systems needed to carry or deliver weapons. There’s no point adding them either. Iran already has its own armed UAVs, so why convert a totally unsuitable US design to do the same job? The RQ-170’s distinctive flying wing shape is optimized for stealth, and comes with serious penalties in controllability. It just isn’t sensible to accept these drawbacks on an attack system – especially when hanging weapons on it totally wipes out any attempt at stealth. A cluster of external bombs would create a massive radar return, so the Saequeh would be about as stealthy as the side of a warehouse.

iranian-droneNot that it matters, because the chances this is an actual flying system are roughly zero. Iran isn’t a backwards country when it comes to science and engineering, but they’re still nowhere near being able to build something as sophisticated as this. Their aircraft industry is limited to light trainers and copies of some 1960s US helicopter designs; their “indigenous” fighter, also called the Saequeh, is just a rebuilt F-5E with twin tails and a new radar. Iran can’t build advanced aircraft.

What Iran can do is run elaborate propaganda stunts. A couple of years ago there was the F-313 Qaher stealth fighter, which was very obviously a non-flying model. It didn’t have an engine exhaust, the air intakes were far too small and the way they were placed guaranteed a flame-out if the pilot pulled the nose up more than a few degrees, and there was no space in the nose for a radar. As a final comic touch, a journalist managed to get a look at the cockpit instruments; these had obviously been borrowed from a light aircraft, because they showed a stall speed of 70 knots and a never-exceed speed of 260 knots. For comparison, a 1939 Spitfire Mark I could do 314 knots.

Iran has formidable air defenses and large ground forces; it wouldn’t be an easy target for any attack, but they aren’t building a fleet of super stealth machines based on captured US technology. It’s time defense journalists stopped being so gullible.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Fergus Mason

Fergus Mason grew up in the west of Scotland. After attending university he spent 14 years in the British Army and served in Bosnia, Northern Ireland, Kosovo and Iraq. Afterwards, he went to Afghanistan as a contractor, where he worked in Kabul, Mazar-e-Sharif and Camp Leatherneck. He now writes on a variety of topics including current affairs and military matters.
Fergus Mason

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